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Fighting the Stigma of Drug Addiction

The damaging stigma of drug addiction continues to bring guilt and shame to those struggling to overcome addiction. Mental illness tends to carry the same judgemental disgrace. Professionals have proven there is no basis for the stigma. Unfortunately, it will take more than a village to overcome the stigma of drug addiction.

What is the Stigma of Drug Addiction?

Stigma remains a dark label inflicted upon those already beaten down by addiction. The stigma of drug addiction often makes it more difficult for addicts to quit using. Just as the depressed sit alone in misery because of stigma, the drug addict fears the repercussions of admitting to their addiction. Few people understand that addiction is a medical illness like mental illness.

Medical professionals who have been educated still hold judgments against those dealing with addiction and mental health. It’s difficult to put away concepts you were raised to believe are valid. Like mental illness, addiction carries a mark of disgrace, which is the foundation of stigma. Because of the negative impact of drug and alcohol addiction, it is difficult for even our highly educated professionals to put aside the stigma of drug addiction. 

Drug addiction carries guilt, shame, embarrassment, and isolation, which affirms that the addict’s only friend is their drug. Because of the stigma of drug addiction, those experiencing addiction have many obstacles to fight for help. Stigma itself is the primary barrier to seeking help for addiction. Families avoid their addicted loved ones, and friends and coworkers have difficulty with the simple acknowledgment that addiction exists. 

The stigma of drug addiction breeds the statistic that only one in ten addicted people reach out for help to quit. Stigma is the reason for underdiagnosing, undertreating and underfunding addiction in the U.S. While addiction remains one of our country’s most significant health problems, stigma remains and makes addiction a moral dilemma instead of a medical illness. Even insurance companies responsible for protecting our population in health crises avoid the reality that addiction is a medical issue. 

What Are Its Causes?

One of the most significant reasons the stigma of drug addiction remains is the healthcare profession. Medical professionals cannot equate addiction with a medical illness and attach its cause to moral failings and a lack of willpower. This stereotypical mindset is ancient and unforgiving. As a result, clinical settings are rife with professional components looking down on those addicted and suffering an overdose. 

Where do the healthcare professionals in this country extract their belief systems? Decades ago, their parents considered addicted people the dregs of society, and this belief has carried on throughout today’s population. Addicted people seeking help with their addiction are often shamed and looked down upon instead of helped. This attitude and stigma of drug addiction push the addicted population further into their addiction.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is rife with drug and alcohol addiction. More than 800,000 Americans died from drug overdose between 1999 and 2020. However, there is no money to be made with addiction treatment. Much like mental illness breaking into the medical landscape in recent years, insurance companies do not want to pay for mental illness and addiction treatment as they do other medical diseases.

America’s healthcare community has weaponized the stigma of drug addiction to cause hopelessness, shame, and guilt and victimize the weak. Fueling the addiction problem with over-prescribing painkillers, medical professionals then refused to take responsibility for the results. Instead, like smoking, obesity, and diabetes, addiction is sometimes labeled a “choice” or flaw in character.

How To End Addiction Stigma

Ending the stigma of drug addiction will take years. There is a need to embrace the truth of addiction and make it an individual responsibility to begin the change. After all, the challenge of knocking down stigma starts within each of us. Teaming with medical professionals who understand addiction, a medical illness, can fuel a new awareness. 

Like overcoming racism, our vocabulary and communications regarding addiction must change. Education can also help, but it’s imperative that we share the concern and not perpetuate false beliefs. How we each refer to addiction and the people struggling with it can move mountains. In short, Focusing on the person, not the addiction, acknowledges that we are dealing with a human condition. 

Foundations like Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation have committed to breaking the stigma of drug addiction. The standards of this foundation remain true in stating that individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are every bit as moral, productive, intelligent, worthy, and talented as any of us. Plus, recognizing successful recovery is beneficial for those who need encouragement. This advocacy may enlighten the darkest corners of the medical profession that refuse to change. 

Changing the Vocabulary Can Help

Replacing negative descriptors can be the first choice for change. For example, instead of using words such as abuser, addict, alcoholic, drunk, junkie, and user, use the vocabulary of a person with a substance use disorder. It is time to support other humans faced with negativity and disgrace in their hour of need. In conclusion, volunteering, mentoring, and showing understanding toward those seeking recovery can begin to break the stigma of drug addiction. 

Finding Help for Understanding the Stigma of Drug Addiction in Tennessee

Tennessee Valley Recovery understands what you have been facing and wants to help you get treatment for this genuine medical illness. Our compassionate treatment professionals work daily to break the stigma of drug addiction. Find a new inner strength with our team of experts and rise above the stigma. Contact us today.